Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 18:44 pm (KSA) 15:44 pm (GMT)

Militants bomb oil pipeline in southern Yemen

Anwar al-Awlaqi has been linked to high-profile terror plots in the US (File)  
Anwar al-Awlaqi has been linked to high-profile terror plots in the US (File)

Militants blew up an oil pipeline in southern Yemen on Tuesday, causing an oil leak and sending black smoke billowing into the sky, Yemeni security and company officials said.

It was not clear whether al-Qaeda's local offshoot was behind the attack, a Yemeni official said. Other anti-government militants are also active in southern Yemen.

Over the past year, tribesmen have also attacked pipelines, in several cases to protest civilian deaths in government airstrikes targeting the al-Qaida group. Gangs have also been suspected of sabotaging pipelines to extort money from government officials.

Tuesday's attack took place in the town of Shubika in Shabwa province, where Yemen's al-Qaida branch has found refuge in remote and rugged mountains. The group is suspected in the shipment of parcel bombs addressed to synagogues in the U.S. The two bombs were discovered last week at airports in England and Dubai before they exploded.

The Yemeni official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

Tuesday's explosion caused a leak in the 126-mile (204-kilometer) pipeline, which is operated by a state-owned South Korean company, Korea National Oil Corp., according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The pipeline is part of an oil field that produces 10,000 barrels a day, the report said, quoting company officials. The extent of damage has not yet been confirmed, the report said.

A South Korean Embassy official reached by phone in Yemen confirmed that an explosion struck a KNOC pipeline. The official, Lee Han-wook, declined to provide further details.

Yemen hunts down the bombmaker

Yemen launched a major operation on Tuesday to arrest a Saudi bombmaker suspected of being behind a foiled bomb plot involving U.S.-bound parcels as the poverty-hit Muslim nation comes under pressure to find those responsible.

The aim of the operation in the provinces of Maarib and Shabwa was to capture Ibrahim al-Asiri, as well as the U.S.-born radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who is wanted by Washington for his links to al-Qaeda, a Yemeni security official said.

Yemeni authorities also began the trial in absentia of al-Awlaki, who has been linked to the failed bombing of a U.S.-bound plane in December 2009 that was claimed by Yemen's al-Qaeda wing and who is thought to be in southern Yemen.

Yemeni prosecutors accused al-Awlaqi of incitement to kill foreigners.

"Specially designated global terrorist"

"Asiri is believed to be hiding and moving with senior al-Qaeda elements such as (Yemen al-Qaeda leader) Nasser al-Wahayshi. Security intelligence are still tracking them down to exactly identify their whereabouts," the official said.

"The campaign includes intensive intelligence and military work," he added. Security forces had been deployed to parts of the two provinces, and were working to seal off some areas.

Maarib and Shabwa are neighboring provinces that are known for their impenetrable desert landscape. Shabwa is in central Yemen and borders the Arabian Sea, while Maarib lies to the west of the country.

The two parcel bombs were intercepted last week on cargo planes in Britain and Dubai and are thought to be the work of al-Qaeda's Yemen-based arm, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), U.S. officials say.

The U.S. Treasury has blacklisted Awlaki as a "specially designated global terrorist." Earlier this year, the United States authorized the CIA to capture or kill him.

Last week's plot deepened Western security fears focused on Yemen after AQAP claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb that Saudi Arabia's security chief narrowly survived in August 2009 and a foiled Christmas Day attack on a U.S.-bound plane.

U.S. President Barack Obama has increased funding for Yemen this year, providing $150 million in military assistance alone.

Joint US-Yemeni security operations

Unmanned American drone aircraft gather information about militants and have occasionally fired missiles at them, although neither Washington nor Sanaa is keen to admit this.

Joint U.S.-Yemeni security operations in the past year have failed to kill or capture AQAP's top leadership.

The muscular approach risks provoking a fierce backlash among Yemenis already deeply hostile to the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and to Washington's support for Israel.

Asked to comment on media reports that Jaber al-Fifi, a Saudi al-Qaeda militant who had given himself up to the Saudi authorities last month, had tipped Riyadh off on the plot, the Yemeni security official said:

"All what we know is that he was arrested in Abyan weeks ago and was handed over to the Saudis recently within the framework of our cooperation with them."

The U.S. administration has not called for a large-scale crackdown in Yemen and political analysts point to the country's weak central government which faces huge economic problems and strong anti-American sentiment among the population which complicate its partnership with Washington.

There are domestic concerns that the plot could be used to justify greater U.S. intervention.

Yemeni police arrested a young student at Sanaa University in connection with the parcel bomb plot but released her the next day, saying she had been the victim of identity theft.

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